When you think of pollution, you likely picture oil spills, litter along the highway, or smoke stacks billowing gases…but do you think of noise as pollution? Although it doesn’t affect the environment in the same way that air, land, and water pollution does, it’s becoming clearer that noise pollution can have a negative effect on our lives that’s more than just being a nuisance.
What is noise pollution and where is it?
Noise pollution is simply defined. It is exposure to levels of sound that are annoying or harmful to humans or other living things. Although it can occur anywhere, even in the country, noise pollution is most prevalent in cities.
Effects of noise pollution on hearing
Other than simply being a nuisance, sound pollution can have negative effects on our health as well. Most notably, negative effects in relation to hearing. According to most experts, the human ear can safely be exposed to sound levels of 85 decibels or less, but exposure to louder sounds can lead to hearing loss.
Inside the ear are thousands of tiny hairs. These hairs are responsible for sending signals to our brain when sound enters the ear. The brain then interprets the signals and tells the body how to respond. The accuracy of the information the brain receives is directly related to the health of our ear hairs. When these tiny messengers are regularly exposed to excessive noise, they become damaged and distort the signals that are sent to the brain.
According to Ellen Pfeffer Lafargue, an audiologist from the Center for Hearing and Communication, it’s like walking on grass – trampling on the blades once or twice doesn’t usually have too much effect and they’re able to bounce back to their original position. Continuing to tread on them, however, leads to flattened and dead grass. The same is true of the hairs in the ear. When they are repeatedly exposed to loud sounds, they can become damaged, resulting in hearing loss.
Living with sound pollution and preventing hearing loss
Unless you have the ability to move to another place, you can’t change the amount of noise in your city. However, you may be able to have some effect on your neighborhood and personal space. You can support local regulations that restrict excessive noise and also wear hearing protection when participating in personal activities, such as mowing the lawn, where you are exposed to loud sounds for long periods of time. Every effort you make to protect your ears now will help you hear well longer, improving your quality of life.